The other day I walked on the road and saw a painter seated on a stool inside the woods and painting on the canvas she’d set up. I thought briefly about taking her photo—we don’t see many painters at work around here though I think ours is a beautiful area—but didn’t wish to disturb her, she was so deeply and quietly working.
But I was curious to see the scene she was so intent on capturing, so the next day I walked off the road to where she was sitting and looked around, and the above photo is what I saw. I was sure of the place where she sat, knew it was by a small culvert just before the road curved taking us to the horses.
I stood there, surprised. We have so many pretty views here, what is it that drew her to this spot? There’s the rivulet of water across the middle, and a very small glen papered with dried leaves. Still, a turn of the canvas would have captured the curved road and the bigger woods on the other side. I tried to recapture her perspective, the ground and figure, and couldn’t. And realized that once again, people have their personal views on life and landscape that are plain bewildering to me.
They have their stamp collections they’ve painstakingly accumulated over a lifetime, whereas I can hardly be bothered specifying which first-class stamp I want to buy for our regular mailings.
Recently I got two gold coins and the husband of a friend sold them for me. He sat down and told me how all his life he loved coins and learned all about them from an old coin shop owner he’d hang out with after doing his paper route as a boy. He would have happily spent days in our home talking about coins, and when he left I wondered to myself: Who would think someone who worked in the business of package delivery could have such a private, lifelong passion for coins?
Something calling you out of yourself and saying: Look here, look here! No one else responds to that particular call except for you.
If the woman is a good artist, she might convey to me and others what it was that drew her here, what it was she saw that needed painting, and a private vision becomes shared. But she may also leave it hanging privately at home, her private secret, unsure herself whether anything can truly be captured. Like many writers I know with hundreds of pages of unpublished books and stories sitting in their cabinets or computer files.
We respond to those calls, do the best we can, and leave it. When we die it’ll be recycled in no time flat, without leaving a trace–except the memory one woman has of seeing another seated on a stool and painting in the woods something only she saw, no one else.